“Human presence is a creative and turbulent sacrament, a visible sign of invisible grace”. John O'Donohue

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Filing for Divorce from Yoga

When I was twenty one (twenty nine years ago this year)  I picked up a book at a car boot sale. It was a book on yoga in which all the black and white images  were line drawn pictures or photos of people in leotards and footless tights.  For 20p, and hoping from some insights into my anxiety,  I took home The original Sivananda Companion to Yoga, and my first self directed yoga lesson. And the journey began. I did everything the book said, earnestly. 

A decade later - after a brief and interesting fling with Tai Chi - a more serious study of yoga emerged. By this time, I had added  early morning Yogazone classes on  Sky TV to my self practice (in the days when I still owned a telly!) Don't laugh - those classes were really good!  I remember lying in supta bada konasana one day, and feeling something very deep and very profound "happen" in my body. I know more now about what that was, but it was enough to send me on a much deeper search. 

I joined a yoga class just as yoga - fuelled by Sting and Madonna -  was becoming popular. I hated it. It was an Iyengar class and nothing like I had been doing on my living room carpet. (I didn't know about yoga styles then) but I  persevered. In 2004,  I ended up in India.

I came back a yoga teacher! This hadn't been my intention. I had gone just wanted to immerse myself in "proper" yoga. And it was quite an immersion, with a nice dose of unknown Indian lurgy and a ten kilo weight loss thrown into the mix. But was life changing. And career changing. I go as far as to say it saved my life.  This is not hyperbole. It really did. 

A further teacher training followed, and countless other trainings and immersions and qualifications. And a path of wanting to teach and share the yoga that had saved my life. I began specialising in yoga for cancer and made it my job to teach others to offer this deeply needed work. Healing Space was born. For me Yoga was and has always been, a path of love. 

And one day (I can't pinpoint when) One day, everything changed. Well actually not quite a day (poetic license) but whatever changed, changed pretty quickly.  And the whatever was this: 
1. The popularity of yoga leading to an overwhelming number of teacher trainings that churn out overwhelming numbers of yoga teachers, of varying levels of competence. 
2. The rampant consumerism of the £70 billion global yoga "industry" that makes ridiculous overpriced and ethically questionable products, making a lot of money for somebody, but certainly not for most of my fellow yoga teachers. 
3. The constant fighting and bickering among the overwhelming numbers of yoga teachers about what yoga is, who started it, who owns it, who stole it, how to do it, why we should do it, why we shouldn't be doing it, why it's dangerous, why it is culturally appropriative, why it promotes abuse culture, who is an abuser or charlatan or cult leader who MUST BE EXPOSED (and who's next on the list!) and whether it can legitimately be called Yoga at all. 
4. An evolution into the rampant, abusive, take-down frenzied stinking troll-pit that used to be the (relatively) benign social hangout that is Facebook.  

And the final thing that changed, was my relationship to yoga because of all of this. I got sucked in. I have spent way too many hours  - when I could and should have been practising or teaching or writing or singing or gardening - arguing with other yogis online about all of this shite. I have grown fearful - terrified actually - and argumentative, I have risked friendships and I have been unkind. I have been much, much less than the best version of myself. 

 All I ever wanted to do was spread the love.  For me, it was never really about the shapes, it was always about the opportunity simply to be in a space with other human beings and offer unconditional presence. It was just a way to do that. My teaching - like my parallel path to priesthood - has always been about the healing. And do you know what? I can continue to do that without all of this other crap. I don't want to live in fear and tension and to feel any scrap of bitterness a moment longer. 

So I am filing for divorce. It should be amicable. There is still love there. But I don't think we can live together any more. 

What does this mean in practicality?  
  • My own personal spiritual and physical practice will remain unchanged. No doubt, freed of the burdens of constant exhausting, pointless discourse, it shall improve greatly. Will I call it Yoga? I don't think it cares. 
  • will continue to offer Healing Space -  in new and improved formats. 
  • I will write. A lot. A book. Poetry. A 30,000 word Masters dissertation.
  •  I shall pursue the neglected path of priest, healer and minister that  - for reasons of self doubt and a disabling preoccupation with social media -  has been too long in the shadow. This will be my priority. A retreat is required.
And I will be here. 

EDIT 31-05-18

I have realised that another big reason, probably the biggest reason, I have reached this decision is one of integrity. I realise,  even after nearly thirty years of practice, that I am actually not qualified to teach Yoga. And in fact, nobody is! And nobody has the authority to say that someone is - despite the attempts to presume such authority. 

Let me explain. When I talk about Yoga (with a capital Y) I am talking about centuries-old esoteric practices. These practices have been reduced -  in a beautifully packaged and acceptably palatable Western way - to significantly less that their component parts.  Into the hands of qualified yoga teachers (and other wellness practitioners) come deeply vulnerable people: the traumatised; the depressed; the injured; the addicted. And - shored up by qualifications - we often promise something we simply cannot deliver.  I believe that yoga has profound ability to heal, but I think that is more often than not,  despite the yoga teachers, not because of them. Yes - many yoga teachers are otherwise qualified, sometimes ridiculously overqualified (myself among them) but in truth, who - when looking for a yoga class - really knows the difference?

It is falling on its arse. And about time. 


  1. well said, Jude. Keep going, you're on the right track. :)

  2. Yes, yoga alliance etc are a total joke.

    But when referring to 'traditional,' yoga don't forget that women and non Indians were not allowed to practice.

    1. I don't normally publish anoymous comments, but I wanted to reply. I don't believe in my article, that I refer to "traditional" yoga (whatever that is) although I do refer to yoga(s) being ancient. There are many "traditions".